April 19, 1909
On this day, frontier hit man, James Brown Miller, a.k.a. “Deacon Jim” and “Killin” Miller, finally met justice at the end of a rope in Ada, Oklahoma, after cheating the hangman in court on numerous murder charges.
Miller’s history is a litany of dead lawmen, murdered witnesses and suborned juries numbering in the dozens. Dozens more unproven murders followed in his wake, each bearing Miller’s signature “death by shotgun,” including his own grandparents.
Early Van Buren, Arkansas
Born in Van Buren, Arkansas August 25, 1861, his family moved to Franklin, Texas, when he was just a year old. Widowed several years later, his mother moved with nine children to Evant, Texas, living with her parents. Miller was just eight when his grandparents were found shot to death.
Suspition for the crime fell on James, although there appears to be no official record of any legal action due largely to his age. The judicial account of the murder of his brother-in-law, John Coop, is more definitive. The 19-year-old Miller was arrested and received a life sentence, the first attempt by the legal system to bring Miller to heel. Alas, the guilty verdict was overturned by the Court of Appeals on an unspecified technicality.
Miller’s next stop was the Emmanuel “Mannen” Clements’ ranch. Clements, (left) was a serious criminal in his own right, a cousin of the outlaw John Wesley Harden, often called “the most dangerous man in Texas.” Hardin (right) was believed to have murdered at least 27 men.
Miller became best friends with the Clements son, “Mannie,” Jr. and married into the family, wedding Mannie’s sister, Sally (sometimes spelled Sallie) Clements in 1891.
When Mannen Clements was killed in a confrontation with Sheriff Joe Townsend in Ballinger, Texas, in 1887, Townsend barely survived a shotgun ambush that cost him is arm. While the attack bore all the earmarks of Miller ‘s handiwork, he was never charged.
Suspicions of criminal conduct didn’t prevent Miller from acquiring a badge as the town marshal in Pecos, Texas. Taking on the cloak of a devout Methodist, Miller never missing Sunday services. Always wearing a long black duster and a polite demeanor, he became a well-liked part of the Pecos community. (Above, Miller, a likable family man)
Inevitably he would clash with Reeves County’s sheriff, George A. “Bud” Frazer, regarding Miller’s part in the death of a local cattleman. It ignited a pair of shoot-outs between the two.
But before they could kill each other in a gunfight, Frazer (left) lost his bid for reelection and left Reeves County for present day Carlsbad, New Mexico. Returning to visit his mother, however, Miller shot him in the back at the poker table inside a Toyah, Texas, saloon.
Surprise, Miller was acquitted once again, this time due to conflicting testimony. On the off chance of an appeal by prosecutors, however, an eye witness to the murder, cowhand Joe Earp died in a shotgun blast three weeks after the trial.
Historians surmise that Miller was already working as a paid assassin but Frazer and potentially, Earp, were killed for purely personal reasons.
Known contract killings included Lubbock, Texas, lawyer James Jarrot, who had irritated local ranching interest by winning several cases on behalf of small farmers, a man named Frank Fore in Fort Worth and U.S. Deputy Marshal Ben Collins. Some evidence also linked Miller to the murder of Pat Garrett, (left) famous for killing Billy The Kid under disputed circumstances. There was no shortage of suspects for the killing but cowhand Jesse Wayne Brazel confessed and was acquitted.
His personal grudge killings, not withstanding, that paid assassin thing finally ended the scourge of Jim Miller. Ranchers Jesse West and Joe Allen through a middleman, Berry B. Burell, reportedly paid Miller $1,700, more than $35,000 today, to murder Allen Augustus “Gus” Bobbitt. A popular figure in Ada, Oklahoma, and a former U.S. Deputy Marshal, Bobbitt survived Miller’s shotgun long enough to identify his killer.
Captured by Texas Rangers and brought back to Ada, Miller and his three accomplices were dragged from the local jail to a livery stable just steps away where Miller was told to either confess or die. He confessed and died anyway, after alleging his death toll stood at 51.
Perhaps overstating their villainy, Ada’s Daily Ardmoreite called the quartet “one of the bloodiest band of murderers in the state… an organization of professional assassins [with] no equal in the annals of criminal history in the entire southwest.” Miller may have been the only one to actually fit that description but the year of the lynching, the town of 5,000 managed to chalk up 38 murders.
Oklahoma Governor Charles N. Haskell (right) convened a special Grand Jury in Ada to investigate. For three days 28 witnesses were questioned. All suffering from poor eyesight or bad memories, none could identify any of the vigilantes. In their report the jury took aim, not at the vigilantes, but at the judicial system. They concluded that while the affair was indeed deplorable, they believed it was “largely due to the tardy administration of justice by the court.”
Ultimately nobody was ever charged but the incident became quite a profit center for the community. The four corpses were left dangling in the old barn until a photographer could be summoned. Souvenir post cards of the scene were sold in Ada for years.
West Of The Pecos Museum, 120 E. Dot Stafford Street Pecos, Texas, is located in a red sandstone building built by in 1896 by former Texas Ranger, R.S. Johnson. The Orient Hotel was added above the saloon In 1904. The turn-of-the century landmark has three floors with 50 rooms exhibiting a variety of West Texas artifacts.
The ground floor includes the saloon, with the original bar, complete with bullet holes. The second floor is home to the School Room, The Beauty and Barber Shop, the Library and Music Room, the Kitchen and the Dining Room as well as collections of medical equipment, turn of the century baby clothes and artifacts from the Texas & Pacific Railroad, 1880s era. Floor Three highlights the area’s Hispanic and Native American cultures and displays of a variety of mercantile items.
The museum is regularly open 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday and 1 to 4 Sunday. For current information regarding any temporary closures go to westofthepecosmuseum.com, call (432) 445-5076 or write P.O. Box 1784, Pecos, TX 79772.
© Text Only – 2020 – Headin’ West LLC – All photos – public domain or fair use.
*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable. When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.